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Das Geständnis des Fleischhauers
[The Butcher’s Confession]
by Hussain al-Mozany
Review translated from the German by Martina Kirchhof
Verlag Hans Schiler, Berlin, 2007
ISBN 978-3-89930-179-3, 280pp
The inevitable and hopeless logic of hate
Sirhan, a butcher who lives in Cologne, sees himself as the victim of a mysterious disease: he is convinced that the painful blows he has recently suffered are caused by an unstoppable affliction of “Germanisation”. His marriage to a German woman has ended in divorce, with the care and custody of his daughter being given to his ex-wife. His best friend, a German-Iraqi painter, has died from alcoholism caused by a broken heart. Now Sirhan is confronted with grey nothingness. The more despairing he becomes and the more he loses contact with the outside world, the more he comes to the conclusion to rid himself of the Germanisation that is torturing him – even if it requires a victim.
In his new novel Das Geständnis des Fleischhauers Hussain al-Mozany has created with Sirhan Qati Al-Rubayi a literary figure that is simultaneously frightening and deplorable. From the very beginning we see a person who has lost all contact with his roots and who turns into a murderer the moment he has to admit his life is a failure. He is filled with feelings of hate for his surroundings and works himself up into a homicidal rage that sends him running wild.
Yet, it seems at first as if there could be a way out for Sirhan. An Egyptian friend invites him to go to Cairo. His friend’s beautiful words attract him to that warm climate – there he can meet the most tender of women and make a new start. Sirhan accepts the offer and arrives full of expectations, but his stay there – the description of which makes up the main part of the novel – develops, not surprisingly, into a disaster. He finds no stability in Cairo, the foreign country doesn’t open up to him, his friend abandons him, and he finally gets into deep trouble when the secret service start following him. On an unfounded suspicion of spying he is arrested, interrogated, tortured, and finally incarcerated in prison.
Wherever he goes, Sirhan finds a reason to regard the people around him as hostile and vicious. With his special liking for extensive mind games and speculations on life – which the narrator describes enthusiastically – he comes to the unavoidable conclusion to take revenge. He has to find an outlet to satisfy his craving for punishment. His mysterious affliction seems to give him a ready reason as he tries to convince himself that his Germanisation – which has resulted step by step in him losing his Iraqi identity – is responsible for the deep losses he has suffered. After his shameful return from Egypt there is only one solution: he has to take his revenge out on a German. His victim should be an important, socially respected member of society, representing all that has destroyed him.
In an interview, Al-Mozany has described his hero’s situation as “hopeless”. What seems to be an absurd and barely understandable deed has logic only for the avenger himself. Sirhan not only feels alone and a loser but is also robbed of power – his life in Germany having totally disillusioned him. Everything has been lost and his home country destroyed, ravaged by a terrible war. Sirhan feels inferior in every way; he has to look for the powerful opponent whom he has decided to destroy.
The novel’s first person narrator makes it possible for the reader to look deeply into the offended soul of the protagonist. The reader follows Sirhan’s hateful visions that spiral into hallucinations and fantasies of absolute power in which he tries to compensate for his inevitable defeat. At the same time he gives himself the features of a martyr after suffering serious physical injuries from the state authorities.
In the end Sirhan is preoccupied solely with his own person, and openly admits it is to save himself that he has to kill someone of high standing. This figure turns out to be, coincidentally, his employer Klimp, the “meat baron” who gave him work and support when he first arrived in the country. The deed takes place in public during a live performance of “Othello”. Sirhan, the lost one, attacks and slaughters Klimp with two butcher’s axes, and immediately afterwards reports himself to the police. In his rage he assumes a mask of total conviction: Klimp is the one who must take responsibility for everything that has made his life so unbearable.
Such arcane thought patterns for the reader to follow make the novel a veritably nerve-wracking and sometimes deeply disturbing experience.
From Banipal 30 - Autumn/Winter 2007
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